The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ensuring environmental sustainability — the seventh millennium development goal — requires achieving sustainable development patterns and preserving the productive capacity of natural ecosystems for future generations. Both efforts in turn require a variety of policies that reverse environmental damage and improve ecosystem management. The challenge has two dimensions: addressing natural resource scarcity for the world’s poor people and reversing environmental damage resulting from high consumption by rich people. Many environmental problems arise from the production and consumption patterns of non-poor people, particularly in rich countries...

To ensure the sustainability of Earth and its resources, including the development prospects of poor countries, these harmful production and consumption patterns must change. Energy systems will have to generate much lower greenhouse gas emissions. Fisheries will have to be managed based on ecological limits rather than heavily subsidized free-for-alls. And international rules of the game will have to mitigate the overconsumption that endangers ecosystems and certain plants and animals.

But with smart policies and new technologies, the costs of these changes can be quite low. At the same time, many environmental problems stem from poverty — often contributing to a downward spiral in which poverty exacerbates environmental degradation and environmental degradation exacerbates poverty. In poor rural areas, for example, there are close links among high infant mortality, high fertility, high population growth and extensive deforestation, as peasants fell tropical forests for firewood and new farmland.

Given this chain of causation, policies that reduce child mortality can help the environment by lowering population growth and reducing demographic pressures on fragile ecosystems. Other examples of poverty contributing to environmental degradation abound. Thus reducing poverty can play a pivotal role in environmental protection. Worsening environmental conditions-including depletion of natural resources and degradation of ecosystems and their services-hit poor people the hardest. And when poor people degrade the environment, it is often because they have been denied their rights to natural resources by wealthy elites. In many cases, for example, poor people are forced onto marginal lands more prone to degradation.

Around the world, 900 million people live in absolute poverty in rural areas, depending on the consumption and sale of natural products for much of their livelihoods. In Tanzania poor people derive as much as half of their cash incomes from the sale of forest products such as charcoal, honey, firewood and wild fruits. The least developed countries are the most dependent on agriculture and natural resources. Yet relying on primary products — agricultural and forest products, minerals, fish — for export earnings makes developing countries highly vulnerable to resource depletion and worsening terms of trade.

The relationship between poverty and environmental resources also has a strong gender component. Poor women and girls are hurt disproportionately by environmental degradation, often because they are responsible for collecting fuel, fodder and water. In many countries deforestation forces rural women and girls to walk farther and spend more time and energy collecting fuel wood. In Africa they spend up to three hours a day just fetching water, expending more than a third of their daily food intake.

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